Rains hold up vital supplies for villagers fleeing Sudan crisis

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The Independent Online

On the banks of the Mura river in eastern Chad, they are having a party. Women light campfires to cook maize and tomatoes, men pass each other cigarettes and children run around asking for presents.

On the banks of the Mura river in eastern Chad, they are having a party. Women light campfires to cook maize and tomatoes, men pass each other cigarettes and children run around asking for presents.

The rainy season in Chad has always been welcome, feeding crops and transforming a desert landscape into something lush. This year, it has produced another source of wealth. Villagers have part-time jobs as porters, carrying food, medicines, sometimes entire trucks belonging to international aid agencies across the swollen river.

"I get 500 francs (52p) every time I pull a car out of the water," said 15-year-old Mohammed Ada, standing by the river in ragged shorts and bare feet. "If they are really stuck I ask for 1,000 francs."

The Wadi Mura, a river that appears for three months each year, is a logistical nightmare for aid agencies trying to ferry supplies to refugee camps filled with people fleeing the violence in Darfur.

The waters have cut off access to two major refugee camps, Breijing and Forchana, and around the country other wadis are causing problems too. In the middle of the Wadi Mura, a truck that part-sank a few weeks ago makes crossings even more perilous.

Aid agencies have known for months that the rainy season in Darfur and eastern Chad would make it much harder to get essential foods and medicines to the 190,000 refugees in Chad and 1.2 million displaced people who have been driven from their homes in Darfur by Arab militias and the Sudanese military. But until the last two months they have not been able to tell just how difficult the job will be.

Twelve trucks from the World Food Programme waited on the eastern side of the Wadi Mura for three nights, the drivers hoping the waters will fall. On the fourth morning, they gave up. Ali, a WFP worker who stayed with the trucks, said: "The flow of this river is treacherous and impossible to predict. It rains hundreds of kilometres away and sometimes the waters rise and sometimes they don't."

Breijing, a camp designed for 20,000 people but holding double that number, desperately needs the food to get through soon. Jasdal Gill, at WFP, said: "We have enough supplies to feed people in Breijing until the end of the rainy season but we will have to find other ways to get food in soon. If the rivers still block our progress, we will have to start airlifting."

But, for people around the Wadi Mura and the nearby town of Abeche, the rising waters and the humanitarian crisis have proved a lucrative business opportunity. Issaldhia Dial, a general in the Chad army, rents out two water trucks and a new Land Rover, one of the few vehicles that can navigate the muddy tracks. Rental has risen from $100 to $250 a day.

"The rains are making our lives difficult and incredibly expensive," said one worker with Médecins Sans Frontières in Abeche. "The local companies see we are desperate and they hike up their charges because they know we have no choice."

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